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13 March 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Three-day prison term for leading unregistered church

On 7 March an administrative court in the southern city of Shymkent sentenced Pastor Fauzi Gubaidullin to three days in prison for leading an unregistered Baptist church which refuses to abide by a court order banning it for three months. In Aktobe in late February, a washing machine and car were among items confiscated from a Baptist preacher to cover unpaid fines levied in punishment for peaceful religious activity. Shymkent congregation member Yuri Pfafenrot says life for Council of Churches Baptists in Kazakhstan is getting tougher. "First they came and offered us registration, but we refused," he told Forum 18 News Service. "Now they insist that we register, and when we don't they hand down big fines or even launch criminal cases." Backing the Baptists' demands for an end to compulsory registration is the Human Rights Ombudsperson, Bolat Baikadamov, but he insisted to Forum 18 it is up to religious believers to pressure parliamentary deputies to abolish this requirement. However, current plans to amend the Religion Law seek to make it even more restrictive.

28 February 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: "The fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration"

Two Baptist congregations – one state-registered and the other a branch of a state-registered congregation - and a Pentecostal congregation are among the latest victims of Kazakhstan's crackdown on religious freedom known to Forum 18 News Service. The raids and what Baptists describe as "crude" methods used to interrogate elderly church members were described to Forum 18 by police as "part of the fight against terrorism and religious groups without registration." Police also claimed – apparently falsely – that this is part of a CIS-wide initiative. Unregistered Baptist communities and members of the Tabligh Jamaat Islamic movement also continue to be targeted by the authorities. Kazakh officials continue to encourage citizens to link non-state authorised religious activity with serious crime. Increasingly harsh legal moves against religious freedom and media reports of "illegal" religious communities have created, Forum 18 has been told, a climate of fear among many religious minorities.

22 February 2007

UZBEKISTAN: Three Protestants await trial, but one freed

Two Protestant Christians in the north-west of Uzbekistan – where all Protestant activity is illegal – are facing criminal charges for their religious activity, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. The two - 26-year-old Makset Djabbarbergenov and 32-year-old Salavat Serikbayev – each face up to five years' imprisonment if convicted. The Prosecutor's Office have repeatedly evaded any discussion of the cases with Forum 18. Elsewhere in Uzbekistan, Protestant pastor Dmitry Shestakov – arrested by the NSS secret police on 21 January – also awaits trial, with no date yet set. He is being held in prison. However, visiting Kazakh Protestant pastor Rishat Garifulin has been freed without charge, after being held by the NSS secret police for eleven days. But police in the south-west who raided a private home have detained six Protestants, as well as confiscating a Bible, two audiocassettes and three Christian books in Kazakh. Such confiscated literature - including the Bible - has often been burnt.

21 February 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: More planned restrictions on religious freedom

Kazakhstan plans to even more severely restrict religious freedom than it currently does following 2005 restrictions, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. According to a draft of a new Religion Law, all unregistered religious activity would be banned, and registered religious communities with fewer than 50 members would be banned from publishing or importing religious literature, maintaining open places of worship or conducting charitable activity. Human rights activists and religious minorities have condemned the latest proposals, Ninel Fokina of the Almaty Helsinki Committee describing them as "reminiscent of army regulations." Kazakh law professor Roman Podoprigora finds it "very alarming that the draft Religion Law says nothing about the procedure for formal registration," he told Forum 18. "The procedure should merely be of a question of notification." The KNB secret police are also planning separate restrictions on religious freedom via the Anti-terrorism Law.

16 February 2007

TURKMENISTAN: Family concerned over imprisoned former Chief Mufti

Increasingly concerned about the fate of the imprisoned former Chief Mufti Nasrullah ibn Ibadullah is his extended family, who live in the northern region around Dashoguz [Dashhowuz], Forum 18 News Service has learnt. "We have never once been allowed a meeting, never once have they accepted parcels for him and we don't even know where he is being held," one relative complained. No verified information on the whereabouts or state of health of the 59-year-old Nasrullah has been received since he was sentenced to 22 years' imprisonment at a closed trial in Ashgabad in March 2004. Relatives say rumours he was freed at the time of last October's prisoner amnesty are not true. No officials have been prepared to discuss Nasrullah's case with Forum 18. Forum 18 knows of no other individuals currently imprisoned for their religious activity.

14 February 2007

UZBEKISTAN: Where is Kazakh visiting Pastor being held?

Concern is mounting about where Uzbekistan is holding a visiting Kazakh pastor, Rishat Garifulin, who has not been seen since his arrest by police in Samarkand on 8 February, after Christian literature was found on him. "Now it's almost a week later and we haven't heard anything about him or his whereabouts," Greater Grace sources told Forum 18 News Service. Samarkand police, who arrested Pastor Garifulin, have refused to confirm the arrest to Forum 18. His arrest comes as Pentecostal Pastor Dmitry Shestakov, who is awaiting trial in solitary confinement, is facing increasing attacks in the state-run media. Uzbek authorities are taking greater steps to isolate local religious communities from foreign contacts and have refused visas to and deported foreigners suspected of contacts with local religious communities. Uzbekistan is also continuing to crackdown on foreign religious charities. Christian charity World Vision, which works on HIV/AIDS projects, is the latest target for potential closure.

31 January 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: Do-it-yourself demolition for embattled Hare Krishna commune?

As official pressure on the Hare Krishna commune near the commercial capital Almaty mounts, three more home owners have been served demolition notices, Hare Krishna sources told Forum 18 News Service. If they fail to demolish their own homes by 2 February, the authorities will do so and charge them for the cost. Thirteen Hare Krishna-owned homes were bulldozed last November, though other homes in the village owned by non-Hare Krishna residents have not been touched. Other court cases are pending. The Kazakh authorities have failed to respond to a November 2006 offer to help from the OSCE Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion, but Gauhar Beyeseyeva of the Kazakh Foreign Ministry claimed to the head of the Hare Krishna commune: "We were denied the OSCE chairmanship specifically because of you people." Despite denying any religious motives to the moves against the commune, Amanbek Mukhashev defended the inclusion of Muslim and Orthodox clergy in the official Commission charged with examining the dispute: "The population of Karasai district is basically Orthodox and Muslim and it follows that we should have regard for the views of the representatives of these faiths."

30 January 2007

KAZAKHSTAN: President too busy with "important affairs" to meet Baptists

Amanbek Mukhashev, head of Kazakhstan's Religious Affairs Committee, has petulantly complained to Forum 18 News Service about a request from a group of Baptist churches to meet President Nursultan Nazarbayev to discuss state harassment of their congregations. "Instead of tearing the President away from important affairs the Baptists would do better to register their churches and not violate the law," he told Forum 18. The Council of Churches Baptists, who have over 100 congregations in Kazakhstan, estimate that more than 40 of their members have been fined for their role in worship services since legal restrictions on religious freedom were made harsher in July 2005. "It is perfectly natural that the President will not meet the Baptists," a Presidential Administration official stated. Pastor Yaroslav Senyushkevich commented to Forum 18 that "we regret that officials have such an attitude towards us."

22 December 2006

KAZAKHSTAN: More Hare Krishna home demolitions planned?

After the fining and forcing out from Kazakhstan of a Baptist for taking part in an "illegal" bible study, the Hare Krishna community is preparing to face another court hearing – due on 25 December – Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Asked whether he expects the next five Hare Krishna homes to be bulldozed after 25 December, a senior state religious affairs official told Forum 18 that "we don't know what the court will decide, but I don't expect so." Previous state assurances given to the Hare Krishna community have been broken. Maksim Varfolomeyev of the Hare Krishna community told Forum 18 that the court hearing is "unlikely to be over all in one day, but it's just a matter of time. Our previous experience shows that the decision will not be in our favour," he commented. A state-appointed Commission today (22 December) presented what Krishna devotees describe as a "totally false" version of events, for use as a press release. Human rights activists, who observed the Commission's work, were devastating in their criticism of the way it operated.

12 December 2006

KAZAKHSTAN: Foreign Baptist forced out for "illegal" bible discussion

After seven law-enforcement officials secretly filmed a foreign church member taking part in a bible discussion at a state-registered Baptist church, he was forced to leave the country Forum 18 News Service has learnt. Dan Ballast, an American who belonged for 11 years to the Spring of Water Church, was fined the equivalent of three months average salary and given a deportation order. This is the latest in a series of expulsions known to Forum 18. "This violates both freedom of religion and freedom of speech," a friend of Ballast's said. Kazakh law professor Roman Podoprigora told Forum 18 that "there are no provisions in law which prohibit foreigners from participating in religious ceremonies in different roles," and that "under the existing Religion Law, service in a registered religious organisation is not recognised as missionary activity." Asked by Forum 18 how officials knew to attend the service and film it, one church member responded: "Someone rang them. These things happen here." Ironically, officials had earlier praised Ballast for his educational work.

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